It’s here! It’s finally here! No, not that thing that represents the culmination of the Major League Baseball season. I’m treating that like the bad guy from Harry Potter. I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little bit stitious.
The NBA opened its 2016-17 season Tuesday night, and watching King James and his disciples collect their championship rings really got my blood flowing.
The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be in midseason form, thumping the “new look” New York Knicks in Tuesday’s opener. Lebron had a triple-double and a barrage of nightmarish slam dunks.
The Knicks were in midseason form, too, with a nice 30-point loss.
While Cleveland’s win wasn’t surprising, the super-team Warriors got smacked in their first game with Kevin Durant. The San Antonio Spurs beat Durant and the Warriors 129-100 — is it Durant and the Warriors? Or is it still Curry and the Warriors?
Durant, Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson accounted for 82 of Golden State’s 100 points, so the question moving forward will be, who else can score?
Most analysts are predicting another Golden State-Cleveland matchup in the NBA Finals, which would be the first time in NBA history that the same teams have played in three straight championships.
I’m not sold.
That’s the easy pick and Vegas would suggest taking those two teams. But there’s a lot of basketball to be played between now and June, and it’s really hard to get to the Finals once, let alone three times in a row.
I think the Cavs are still the pick in the East. The opposite of a championship hangover is in store for Lebron and the gang. The pressure is gone; now, they’ll just play relaxed hoops in a conference where the rest of the teams aren’t quite there yet.
Behind them will be the Raptors team they beat in the Conference Finals last year and a couple of fresh faces.
The Celtics have been stacking their roster for a while, and head coach Brad Stevens is a guru. The Bulls have built a somewhat steady roster, and the Derrick Rose saga is officially over in Chicago. The Pacers are getting zero love, which makes no sense. I’m biased, but bet the house on the over for Vegas’ 43.5-win prediction. The Pacers should be a top-four seed and could easily be in the Conference Finals come the spring.
The West is much tighter at the top.
The Spurs lost Tim Duncan, but last night’s win shows it might not matter. Lamarcus Aldridge will get more touches, and the rest of the core guys are there, plus Pau Gasol. The Clippers will have a healthy Blake Griffin back, and the Trail Blazers have been progressing in the right direction. Expect the Dwight Howard-less Rockets to turn things around, and the Timberwolves will make the biggest jump of the season. The T-Pups are NBA League Pass must-see TV.
It’ll be interesting to see what some old guys do with new teams — Rose in New York, Dwyane Wade in Chicago, Durant in Golden State. And how will certain guys respond after injury-plagued seasons — Griffin, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Chris Bosh.
This will be the last year of Paul Pierce, most likely Dirk Nowitzki and probably a handful of other old dudes — enjoy that. But the young bucks are taking over the league. Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns have legit MVP chances, both are under 24. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis are highlight machines. Brandon Ingram will be the first star in Los Angeles since a guy by the name of Kobe Bryant was drafted in 1996, and Jaylen Brown will be a big piece in Boston’s championship hunt.
None of this matters, though, because Lebron is the greatest of all time. Never forget that, but I’ll keep reminding you, just in case.
My 2016-17 NBA predictions:
MVP: Lebron James
Rookie of the Year: Brandon Ingram
Championship: Cavs over Spurs
Bold prediction: Klay Thompson doesn’t finish the season in a Warriors jersey.